Identification of a novel cytokeratin 19 pseudogene that may interfere with reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assays used to detect micrometastatic tumor cells

Int J Cancer. 1999 Jan 5;80(1):119-25. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0215(19990105)80:1<119::aid-ijc22>;2-x.


In many recent publications, it has been claimed that reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays involving genes with tissue-restricted expression can be used for specific and sensitive detection of cancer cells in blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes. Many different target mRNAs have been evaluated for such purposes. One of the most extensively studied genes, CK19, is predominantly expressed in cells of epithelial origin and normally not at detectable levels in hematopoietic or lymphatic tissues. Based on previous reports on CK19 we wanted to establish a useful assay for detection of micrometastatic cells. RNA and DNA specimens extracted from peripheral blood nucleated cells of healthy volunteers, as well as cell lines positive and negative for CK19 expression, were used in nested RT-PCR assays. Using previously published primers, we found a novel pseudogene that shows a high degree of identity with the CK19 gene sequence, except for differences caused by 3 small deletions and a number of point mutations, resulting in termination codons and frameshifts. The gene has therefore no coding potential. Importantly, published primer sequences and reaction conditions used by several other groups to detect CK19 mRNA may have led to the amplification of this pseudogene. The data illustrate one of the problems that must be addressed in validating RT-PCR assays for micrometastasis detection, and it is suggested that previous work using CK19 as a marker should be reassessed in view of the present finding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts*
  • Base Sequence
  • Breast Neoplasms
  • DNA Primers
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Keratins / genetics*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / diagnosis*
  • Pseudogenes*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • Reference Values
  • Restriction Mapping
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Keratins